Kid's Café Pocket Park
New Orleans, Louisiana
The City of New Orleans is home to beautiful architecture, world-renowned Mardi Gras parades, and wonderful restaurants. It is also home to more than 13,000 vacant lots. Mayor Marc Morial wanted to create a model for converting these blighted, vacant properties into neighborhood assets. The problem lots were creating multiple problems for his city: 1) many of the lots were tax-delinquent, 2) the city had to expend already strained resources to maintain the lots, and 3) dumping and illegal activity in the lots created unattractive and unsafe conditions, further perpetuating the economic decline of the neighborhoods in which many of the lots sat. One of these neighborhoods was Central City.
Located only a few miles from the Central Business District, Central City and Oretha Castley Haley Boulevard were once the heart of the African-American commercial district in New Orleans. The area is now afflicted by high vacancy rates and dilapidated buildings that serve as havens for drug addicts and vagrants, and a large number of vacant lots. However, the community does have a number of valuable resources. It is home to the KiDS Café, a nonprofit project that serves inner-city children by providing them with free meals, nutrition education, and a safe environment; The Neighborhood Gallery, an African-American fine arts gallery; and Parkway Partners Program, Inc., a partnership program of the community and the City of New Orleans Department of Parks and Parkways.
Using a City Parks Forum grant, Parkway Partners set out to convert a vacant lot near the Kids Café into a neighborhood garden for children. After several false starts, the project was launched through the generosity of a long-time resident and business owner, who donated the use of a lot next to The Neighborhood Gallery. More than 50 volunteers joined together to build the garden, which is designed to reflect the principles of Kwanzaa. Through the collaboration of the gallery, the Contemporary Arts Center, and local artists, a large mural was painted on the back wall of the garden and additional arts programs developed.
Today, a vacant lot that once grew weeds now grows hope. A volunteer mentoring program, led by Parkway Partners' Community staff, has been developed to provide area youth an opportunity to learn horticulture and life skills in a hands-on, teaching environment. The young gardeners grow a variety of vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Harvested produce is taken home by the children, taken to the Kids Café for preparation, or shared with senior citizens who visit the garden.
Jane Fahr, Director
Parkway Partners Program, Inc.
1137 Baronne St.
New Orleans, LA 70113